The callous murder of prominent Eswatini human rights defender Thulani Maseko has cast a dark pall on the country’s democratic prospects and is a scar on the conscience of the Kingdom’s leadership.
Maseko was reportedly shot and killed at his home in Mbabane on 21 January 2023. The motive behind his shooting is still unclear, although there is speculation that this may have been linked to his work as a human rights defender.
Maseko has over the past years established himself as an illustrious campaigner for democracy in Eswatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchy. He was also actively involved in defending fellow human rights defenders (HRDs) across Southern Africa – having on numerous occasions travelled to Zimbabwe, Zambia and other countries in the region to offer solidarity to HRDs.
He was a senior member of the Lawyers for Human Rights Swaziland, and chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum, which brought together various members that advocated for constitutional reforms in Eswatini.
In his quest for democracy, Maseko spent 15 months in prison – from March 2014 to June 2015 – for criticising Eswatini’s judicial system. This led to Amnesty International declaring him a “prisoner of conscience”.
Maseko’s death is a stark reminder of the dangers that human rights defenders continue to face in Eswatini, where standing up to the government and demanding constitutionally guaranteed rights could lead to imprisonment – or worse – paying the ultimate price of death.
Thus, we call on the government of Eswatini to investigate Thulani Maseko’s death and bring those responsible for his death to book.
This investigation should be led by an independent team to ensure its credibility.
Failure to independently investigate and prosecute those responsible for Maseko’s death will deepen the growing- culture of impunity in Eswatini.
This, unfortunately, will serve as an indicator to others that they can get away with targeting and murdering human rights defenders.
Maseko’s death comes at a time when there have been rising pro-democracy protests in Eswatini and the motive is no doubt to dim the light of the protesters, cow activists and send a chilling message to those who continue to raise their heads above the parapet.
Instead, Maseko’s death should galvanise citizens of Eswatini and the Southern African region to demand answers as to why Maseko was killed in such a callous fashion.
As Maseko wrote in one of his letters from prison in 2015, the motive of such actions is to “hurt us, to break our spirit, our moral strength and crush our resilience so that we succumb to their evil desires”.
Instead of achieving this, this murder should galvanise the people of Eswatini to demand accountability and transparency from their leaders. It should motivate the people of Eswatini to demand an end to such impunity and respect for human rights.
Members of SOS network: Bloggers of Zambia, Centre for Innovation and Technology, eBotho Cyberspace, Ink Centre for Investigative Journalism, Media and Information Literacy Initiative, Media Council of Malawi, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), MISA Botswana, MISA Lesotho, MISA Malawi, MISA Mozambique, MISA Tanzania, MISA Zambia, MISA Zimbabwe, MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism, Namibia Media Trust, PANOS Southern Africa, The Hub Lesotho.